Big challenge: Biden is pressed to end federal death penalty

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Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

President Joe Biden walks to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House, Friday, Feb. 5, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

CHICAGO – Joe Biden, the first sitting U.S. president to openly oppose the death penalty, has discussed the possibility of instructing the Department of Justice to stop scheduling new executions, officials have told The Associated Press.

If he does, that would end an extraordinary run of executions by the federal government, all during a pandemic that raged inside prison walls and infected journalists, federal employees and even those put to death.

The officials had knowledge of the private discussions with Biden but were not authorized to speak publicly about them.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki, when asked Friday about Biden's plans on the death penalty, said she had nothing to preview on the issue.

Action to stop scheduling new executions could take immediate pressure off Biden from opponents of the death penalty. But they want him to go much further, from bulldozing the federal death chamber in Terre Haute, Indiana, to striking the death penalty from U.S. statutes entirely.

A look at the steps Biden could take and the challenges he would face:

Q: WHY THE PUSH FOR ACTION NOW?

A: While the coronavirus pandemic and election coverage dominated the news last year, many Americans who paid close attention to the resumption of federal executions under President Donald Trump were dismayed by their scale and the apparent haste to carry them out.